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The Wall Street Journal Asks, “Can a Fortune 500 CEO Get Into Heaven?”

September 10, 2010

You thought that The Wall Street Journal was, like, a business and investment newspaper, right?

This past Tuesday, the Journal gamely ventured into the argot of the “faith in the workplace” turf when they ran an interview with Donnie Smith, CEO of Tyson Foods, in the weekly “Boss Talk” segment.

Tyson, if you haven’t heard, is one of the biggest meat companies in the universe, slaughtering 2 billion chickens, 20 million pigs and 7 million cattle each year. And Donnie Smith, it turns out, is not just CEO, but also a Sunday School teacher!

Mr. Smith says one of his most important jobs as CEO is to promote an ethical culture, and he blogs about integrity on his internal corporate blog. (Which I tried, but couldn’t track down. Let me know if any of you can snarf it up from the bowels of the Tyson internal infrastructure. I’d love to get a look at it.)

Scott Kilman, the WSJ staff reporter, asked some pointed questions of Mr. Smith regarding the perplexing mash up of his Christian beliefs with running a multibillion dollar business.

Here are some excerpts, interspersed with my own annoying commentary between their discourse, as if they had asked me to join right in the conversation. Which they should have.

WSJ: On your internal company blog, you mention the Bible as your favorite book. Does you faith affect the way you manage?

Mr. Smith: I don’t think you can say, “I do my church stuff on Sunday between nine and noon, and the rest of the time I am either out for myself or running my business.”

My faith influences how I think, what I do, what I say. There are a lot of great biblical principles that are fundamental to operating a good business. Being fair and telling the truth are biblical principles.

Me: OMG did you read that book too? I agree, wholeheartedly. Our faith influences how we think, and should cause us to think at higher levels, not just in ethical matters, but also in running a better business, being a better leader. Donnie, you are a great example of how our faith can play an integral part of running our business. And I am totally not just sucking up to you right now so I can get some free chicken.

WSJ: How moral can a company be?

Mr. Smith: We are going to do what’s right. And we’re going to do what is right for one reason: because it is right. Now, listen, we’ve got 117,000 people. There might be somebody that steps out of line occasionally. We will correct that.

Me: That’s a lot of corrections to keep track of.

WSJ: The bible says the chances of a rich man getting into heaven aren’t good. Can a Fortune 500 CEO get into heaven?

Mr. Smith: This one will, because I did what the bible said I had to do to get into heaven. Feeding people is a laudable purpose in life.

Me: Ha ha ha! You’ve got all your bases covered, mister. And didn’t Jesus feed people, too?

BTW, you people at WSJ need to get with the program and visit the “About” section of my blog to get the real scoop on that saying about a rich man getting into heaven. After Jesus told his disciples it’s harder for a rich man to get into heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of the needle, he goes on to say, “But with God all things are possible.” Jesus makes it very clear that the truth is, God can shrink that camel like magic, and it’ll slip right through the needle, no problem.

Everyone always forgets that part of the story.

Photo by Nancy Rosback.

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24 Comments leave one →
  1. September 10, 2010 6:25 am

    You’re right – we do forget “But with God all things are possible.” We’d like to think that rich people go straight to hell since they got theirs int his life. But God doesn’t work that way. Salvation is for all of us. Even rich people. Even Fortune 500 CEOs.

  2. September 10, 2010 8:06 am

    It’s shameful what you will do for a chicken. ;) If the blog is on their internal intranet then hopefully a company as large as Tyson has secured their intranet from the outside world. We’ve done similar things at places I’ve worked before there were blogs with electronic newsletters.

    I could be getting this wrong, but it feels like the interviewer is taken aback a little by finding out about him teaching Sunday school. It reminds me of those Geico commercials with the caveman – except Christians are the cavemen. What? A Christian can run a Fortune 500 company? But how? You’ll go to hell, won’t you? Of course, maybe I just need more coffee. ;)

    • September 13, 2010 8:07 pm

      Yeah, you know how the media likes to play these things. I almost went down that path with the post here, mocking the interviewer for being so shocked and stupid about these things. But I didn’t (I’m turning into such a good boy). I think the Caveman analogy is a good one. It’s just about the same thing.

  3. September 10, 2010 8:12 am

    I know it was a duh thing, but I never put together the reason for your rather odd blog title until just now. I love it.

  4. September 10, 2010 8:49 am

    Keep the commentary coming. It reminds me of Mystery Science Theater 3000, but for people who prefer workplace topics over old B-level sci-fi films.

  5. September 10, 2010 8:55 am

    Tyson is reviled by many people as a ‘big company’ and a ‘slaughterhouse’, but they feed the masses

    I wrote about John Tyson a couple of years back (http://redletterbelievers.blogspot.com/2007/07/chicken-mogul-sees-value-of-faith-in.html) and what he said was amazing:

    “To ignore the role that faith plays in our daily lives, including at work, is to miss out an essential part of human identity and motivation”

    Tyson funded a “Faith and Spirituality Workplace” chair at University fo Arkansas. He really believes that we cannot divorce our faith from our jobs. John Tyson, Howard Butt…how about Bill Gates?

  6. September 10, 2010 11:42 am

    I see that Donnie has been the CEO for almost a year now,
    by reading an old article from the ABC news site.
    http://abcnews.go.com/Business/wireStory?id=9125439

    and this from a Tyson press release…

    Donnie Smith, 50, joined Tyson Foods in 1980 after graduating from the University of Tennessee with a degree in Animal Science. After seven years experience in various live poultry production jobs, he moved to the corporate headquarters in Springdale, Arkansas, to join the Tyson commodities purchasing group. Since then, he has had various leadership roles in the company, including Purchasing; Environmental, Health and Safety; Food Safety and Quality Assurance; Manufacturing Services; Information Systems; and Logistics, before becoming senior group vice president of Poultry and Prepared Foods.

    “I started with Tyson Foods 29 years ago, and I’ve been very fortunate to serve in several roles for this great company,” Smith said. “At every turn, I learned a different aspect of what we do, but the most important thing I’ve learned is that we have an amazing team of individuals that are dedicated to producing results. I am honored that I will now serve these Team Members as the leader of our company, and I am certain that 2010 and the years to come are going to be great for our shareholders, our customers, and other stakeholders. Yes, we, like everyone else, have seen some struggles in these economic times, but I am certain that through the leadership of our team, the efforts of all our Team Members with our customers, and the focus on operational excellence, we will succeed.”

    http://www.tyson.com/Corporate/PressRoom/ViewArticle.aspx?id=3477

    looks like he has his work “cut-out” for him.

  7. September 10, 2010 12:41 pm

    Bradley,

    I see your need for deeper recognition. It is you who should be slaughtering all of those chickens and touting ethics and spirituality while being showered with attention and adoration from prestigious newspaper publication giants.

    But how are you going to get your hands on 2 billion chickens and launch a huge and new poultry platform of clucking success.

    You’ve outdone yourself with this post. How much caffeine have you been comsuming as of late?

  8. Anna Smith permalink
    September 10, 2010 3:21 pm

    Hi Matthew (whose work was published in Warren Bennis’ Magazine Leadership Excellence some time ago – and who knows what all you’ve done since!… [somebody should toot that horn a bit]),

    I’d love to know: why do YOU think there is a picture of an apple accompanying this post?
    And btw, I agree: this post is AWESOME!!!

    • September 11, 2010 7:10 am

      TOOT TOOT! Very impressive, Matthew! Everyone should get to know Matthew and visit his Blog, “Discover Your Ground” for a very creative and unusal and, I want to say, avant-garde, approach to life and leadership and thinking.

  9. September 10, 2010 6:53 pm

    Anna,

    Thank you for being so kind about my Leadership Excellence publications.

    I don’t know why there’s a picture of an apple accompanying this post. I had to think about your question for a moment. After thinking about it, I came up with Gwenyth Paltrow’s daughter (you kind of look like Gwenyth, Anna – maybe that was the visual-cognitive association going on there).

    Then I thought – Apple – Big Apple – NYC, I’d love to go some day. Then I thought – Apple – teacher’s pet.

    And just now, I thought of the company Apple and the iPhone.

    Anna, you are the ‘apple’ of my eye. Do you like picking apples?

    I agree, Bradley unleashed a tsunami of creativity on this one.

    Watch out for rotten apples. Did I completely miss the point of the apple picture?

  10. September 10, 2010 7:09 pm

    I knew your reply would make me laugh :)
    Who knew that Gwyneth Paltrow’s daughter’s name is Apple?! (And I have never picked apples.)

    I came up with ‘Shrinking the apple’.
    We must have both completely missed the point of the apple picture…! :)

  11. September 10, 2010 8:18 pm

    the curse of knowledge
    makes it less tasty
    to get to the core

    • Bob Gorinski permalink
      September 12, 2010 2:29 pm

      cool nance nAncY…just saw your photo too.

  12. September 11, 2010 7:07 am

    Matthew and Anna – I am going to have to send both of you to Mr. Smith’s Sunday School class tomorrow.

    Although Matthew had some very compelling ideas for why the Apple fit with this post (I am especially liking the connection between me and Gwyneth’s family), and Anna’s idea of Shrinking the Apple is certainly admirable (but not very marketable), here is why I selected that photo with the apple:

    The apple represents the forbidden fruit eaten by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden after God told them “No fruit from that tree!” So there it sits on the plate, eaten and enjoyed by some fat cat who owns a Fortune 500 company, who doesn’t care what God said about not eating the apple. It’s an image of someone who is not on God’s good side.

    Get it?

  13. September 11, 2010 9:57 am

    Nancy,

    That’s a deep perspective, I know I heard that somewhere else a really long time ago, but I just can’t place where it was.

    Is the whole ‘curse of knowledge’ thing another way of saying that all of the fun and surprise gets spoiled with too much knowledge or, conversely, ignorance is bliss?

    Got it BJM…the word ‘Heaven’ is the title should have tipped us off. I was never that good at Bumper Stumpers.

  14. September 12, 2010 4:48 pm

    hi matthew :-)

    the tree of knowledge
    the fruit from the tree
    the knowledge of good and evil.

    decision
    choice

    believed the lies
    ate the fruit
    made the choice

    cut off relationship with God

    all was changed
    surprise . no
    fun . no
    bliss . no
    death . yes

    God made a way
    what the old testament books point to
    Jesus

    decision
    choice

    yes…

    death . yes
    life after death . yes

    .the curse of knowledge
    we highly admire and love knowing
    we make ourselves important in our own eyes
    .makes it less tasty
    it can make it harder to acknoledge
    that Jesus is the Lord
    and it is not all about the self
    or the knowledge we have
    .to get to the core
    the core
    being Jesus.

  15. September 13, 2010 1:50 pm

    I love this post. Glad to see it tweeted again.

    BTW – I want a WordPress template. Maybe my new years gift to myself for 2011. Can you send me to a dummies site for WordPress?

  16. September 13, 2010 8:05 pm

    I loved your commentary. Well, good on WSJ for broaching the subject, and for reminding the community of faith that people really do not understand the difference between religion and relationship. Just as we don’t stop being male, female, parent, or spouse when we go to work our relationship is part of who we are and influences our perspective, thoughts, insights and behavior. I wonder if the questions would have been the same if directed to a person of a different faith.

  17. December 15, 2010 10:48 am

    This is not Mr. Smith’s internal corporate blog, but an interesting post by Dan T. Cathy, President of Chick-Fil-A:
    http://www.chick-fil-aleadercast.com/blog/read/dan_t._cathy_on_customer_service/
    “Several years ago, we introduced “Second Mile Service” to our employees. Going the second mile comes from the book of Matthew in the Bible.”

  18. December 16, 2010 1:14 pm

    Oh, he blogs regularly at http://www.dantcathy.com/

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